Sunday, November 8, 2009

The Vac-Asian, part 1: Hong Kong

Hong Kong is the most explosively vertical city on earth. That’s not a matter of opinion. More human beings live above the 14th floor in Hong Kong than anywhere else in the world. I just had no idea how many freakishly tall buildings they could build in such a tiny space…and we live in Manhattan.

This weekend the ticker taper parade for the World (really?) Champion Yankees was in our neighborhood, and I overheard a drunken Yankees douche, er, fan, blather, “This is the greatest city in the fuckin’ world, bro!” (p.s. the Yankees winning the World Series is about as exciting as Goldman Sachs executives giving themselves billion dollar bonuses…yay, the bad guys won…again!!).

Point is, yes, New York is an awesome city. But I wanted to ask that fan exactly what criteria he was basing his theory on. Because if it’s number of skyscrapers, or impressiveness of skyline, I gotta say, Hong Kong’s got this city beat.

According to the ever wise and reliable Wikipedia-san, Hong Kong has almost two thousand more high-rises than New York City. Two thousand! We’re not talking about dollars or cars or people here. We’re talking about massive structures of steel and girders and glass and lightening rods and millions of people to live inside them.

I mean, I don’t want to turn this into some kind of municipal wiener contest, I’m just saying…for such a small amount of surface area, it’s shocking to see these gigantic economic stalagmites explode upward in such a brazen disregard for nature and gravity and all that is holy. I mean, they have typhoons in this place. Yeah, those are real.

On top of that, the surrounding areas are stacked (stacked!) with mile after mile of public housing that is so singularly unique I wouldn’t shut up about it the whole time we were there. “It’s like Robocop!” I kept exclaiming. Except, of course, sans crime-fighting cyborg with a heart of gold. So I guess it’s nothing like Robocop.

It’s strange, because on one side of the island you’ve got these huge bundles of skyscrapers that throb with the scary futuristic uniformity of a circuit board. And then you go to the other side of the territory (their word, not mine), and…and…

Ok, I should take a step back here. First of all, I have to mention that we were staying with our incredibly generous and hospitable friends the Tiedes, who have relocated to Hong Kong with their two dogs, Prophet and Lester. After a full day of exploring Hong Kong’s money-maker, they took us on a harrowing wrong-side-of-the-road drive around to the back of the, uh, territory, which, inexplicably, looks like the Italian Riveria. I mean, it’s the most incongruous, best-kept secret I’ve ever seen.

So we spent our second day in Hong Kong sunning poolside and sipping vodka lemonades at their private club overlooking craggy cliffs that plunge into turquoise water. There are surf beaches, sandy seafood joints, yachts. It’s crazy. Even if I don’t get to have a yacht, at least it’s nice to be in a place where yachts like to hang out.

Here’s the other weird thing about Hong Kong. When you walk around the guts of the city, which, despite the rampant capitalism is still mighty Chinese, the whole city gives the impression of being built in a treehouse.

That’s because Hong Kong sports some pretty rocky geography, so they just stack all the pubs and restaurants and chicken-windowed shops right up the side of the rocks. There’s actually a moving walkway, called The Escalator, that hauls your fatass right up past level after level of bars and restaurants and chicken-windows. God help our obesity rates when America gets wind of this.

The Tiedes showed our Asia-ignorant asses all over Hong Kong. We drank beer out of bowls, learned how to distinguish between spices that numb and spices that burn, and learned that super rich Chinese people line their security gates with shattered broken glass. And fine, maybe that last one was an isolated incident, but still…it was a learning experience.

To be honest, there’s a good chance that every piece of information I just provided about Hong Kong is completely incorrect. I’m just calling it like I see it. But if there are two things I’m positive of it’s that A. it was an incredible way to launch the journey, and B. it’s near China, right?

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